25.06.3302: IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

FROM: Dashiell Exhibition Hall, Security Office

TO: Serrano, Ali [VP, Government and Administration]

DATE: 25th June, 3302

SUBJECT: Surveillance subject

 

Vice President,

Please find attached the video log from around 11:20 on June 5th as previously discussed.

The subject first drew my attention after being spotted by various slaves loitering by this portrait while the gallery was being emptied, several days in a row. He was not observed doing anything more suspicious.

Despite seeing the subject on many occasions over a period of several weeks in the gallery, this was the only occasion upon which he exchanged words with anyone. I’ve included a transcription below for clarity.

Transcription begins 11:22, 5th June, the year of our Emperor 3302.

[Corner camera, main gallery. Room emptying save for one figure standing in the centre in front of a large portrait. Figure is nondescript, slightly shabby, shoulder length grey hair. Another figure enters – another man, purposeful strides. Black frock coat and high flight boots]

Black coat: Trigger! There you are. I was told you were here – implausible though that seemed. Didn’t have you down as an art critic.

[Stops mid-bluster, noticing the portrait the other has been looking at]

Gripped by patriotic fervour, all of a sudden?

Grey jacket: [seemingly in a world of his own] …After all these years, they still can never capture her eyes correctly.

Black coat: [looks from the painting to the other man] What? The Emperor’s?

Grey jacket: [flushes slightly] Oh? What?! Oh sorry Sou, didn’t hear you enter. What are you doing up here? I thought you were in for a meeting with the giant squid?

Black coat: I was. Our mutual cephalopod was in particularly high spirits. Wrapping her tentacles around her new offices of state and the like.

[Puts hands in pockets]

She’s given me a new mission. All very hush-hush, putting the ‘expeditionary’ back into IPEC, sort of thing. Tried to spin it as a holiday to begin with. Clever minx.

Grey jacket: [perks up] A holiday? I didn’t realise those were part of the contract. You mean the sort with sandy beaches and cocktails with the little straw umbrellas in?

Black coat: That’d be good, wouldn’t it? Sadly not – more the kind with a high risk of a lonely, airless death far beyond the Frontier. Fewer straw umbrellas.

Grey jacket: I’m not so sure. last time you suggested something like this I ran into those angry protesters at Mayo.

Black coat: [cocks eyebrow] Oh, you want to come?

Grey jacket: Maybe, depends how long they take with the free drinks here. I was promised opening night drinks. Where are Dex and Konnie anyway? Don’t they want to come along?

Black coat: They met the Octopus before I did. I actually have no idea where they are. She’s got Ronnie involved in something, but neither of them will talk about it. He’s off in that Cutter, the ‘Great White Cow of Plenty’. And she’s sent Dexter off on a recon mission somewhere. To gauge the threat posed by some pirate lord, or somesuch. It’s almost as though she knows that having four guns-for-hire around with nothing to shoot at is a recipe for trouble…

Anyway. She wants you and I to take a different tack. Those new life forms discovered in the Pleiades are spreading. We need intel on them. Believe it or not, you and I are the most accomplished explorers on the Company’s books. We need to go deep into barely-charted space and see what there is to see. You are of course free to say no. But I’m going, and would appreciate the company.

Grey jacket: At least that should be more interesting for Dex than sitting on that old ice moon of his. Curious about Konnie though, I wonder what she’s been sent to do… Alright then, it promises to be a fun jaunt and gets me away from these paintings.

[Lingering glance at the portrait]

Tell me, what should I pack for such a trip? Do you have any room in your ship for my spare drinks cabinet?

Black coat: Yes. Yes I do. In fact, I have all the room. I’ll show you later. Best go to one of the chop shops here and get them to swap out some of your heavier modules. You’ll want a planetary vehicle lander, the best scanners you can afford, a little bit of cargo space and the largest fuel scoop you can fit. What are you flying?

Grey jacket: I’m flying a spaceship.

Black coat: Ideal.

Grey jacket: Excellent! I’ll go and get those things you said. Oh, and these life forms, are they dangerous?

Black coat: Ah. See, Trig, here’s the rub – we’re the canary down the mineshaft here. If we end up dead, we’ll know the answer is ‘yes’.

The Barnacles aren’t dangerous, in the same way that sheep aren’t dangerous. Sheepdogs, on the other hand, have sharp teeth. Therein lies the mystery. Nobody knows who put those things there. Fancy finding out?

Grey jacket: [thoughtfully] “Yet, across the gulf of space, minds that are to our minds as ours are to those of the beasts that perish, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.”

Black coat: [claps hand on the other man’s shoulder] Fingers crossed not, old chap. Anyway, you sound like ol’ Halsey. What do you say to a quick drink? I’ll show you my planned route.

Grey jacket: I say that sounds like a fantastic idea. They said there would be drinks here, but I guess I’m too early.

[Both men leave by main exit]

Transcription ends 11:34.

 —

After this event, the gallery was cleared and all artworks belonging to TravSol were put into storage and transported to Nourse Dock. The man in the grey jacket was not seen here again.

Mr Serrano. Do let me know if your office requires any more information.

I remain your most faithful servant,

Jules Marcelle

Head Custodian, Dashiell Exhibition Hall

 

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